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Body + Soul = Human
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-12-11 10:00:39
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The Last Judgment by Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel)

One of the best book G.K. Chesterton ever wrote is titled The Everlasting Man. In it Chesterton compares several religions of the world and finds many commonalities among which the golden rule: do not do unto others what you’d wish they not do unto you; also the idea of purification before one is ready to meet God face to face resulting in rebirth or Purgatory.

Chesterton then imagines that an alien arrives on earth and notices the various religions practiced in the world and has difficulty finding their uniqueness and separating them from each; they all look alike to him in their spirituality. They all posit a purification of the soul, often through asceticism and the suffering of the body, the repression of illicit desires, the law of karma and the final bliss with God after the death and disposal of the body. But he does however find one religion which does stand out for its uniqueness, namely Christianity.

While all the other religions were founded by people who claimed a special relationship with God, claiming to be messengers or prophets, none of them declared themselves to be God, there is one where its founder claims in so many words to be God Incarnated or God who has taken a body and has become man. In his preamble to his gospel John calls him the Word (the logos in Greek) who was there from the beginning with God and through which everything there is has been created. That is to say, God who is pure spirit in all religions, in this particular one has taken a body and become human at a particular place and a particular time from a particular people: he is a Jew born from a particular mother, Mary, around the time of Caesar Augustus. The doctrine is called the doctrine of the Incarnation. In doing this, the man called the Christ or the anointed chosen one, or Messiah, splits human history in two: before (B.C.) and after Christ (A.D.). The event is commemorated and celebrated joyfully every year at Christmas on the 25th of December by Christians. The pagans of course commemorate the festivities of the Roman Saturnalia somehow passed on as Christmas.

Moreover, this particular religion claims that its founder now sits at the right hand of the Father (God) with a body, since he resurrected with a body and visited the apostles with a body, and ascended into heaven with a body. This man went around saying things like “before Abraham was I am” and “I and Father are one” and “you sins are forgiven you” knowing full well as a Jew that only God can forgive sins. Now, that truly stands out. Either the man was telling the truth or he was some kind of lunatic who has perpetrated the greatest hoax ever on humankind; there is no two ways about him, for no other founder of religion ever even remotely claimed to be God: not Abraham, not Mohamed, not Buddha, not Confucius.

To add bizarre to the bizarre this religion also claims that there will be a final universal judgment when the dead will be resurrected and judged by that same person who claimed to be God with a body now sitting at the right hand of the Father; and all men will be resurrected, not as angels, not as ghosts but as humans with a body as they were originally created; for to be human and remain human one requires a body; not to have a body and be a pure spirit is to be an angel. The angels too were endowed with free will but since they have no body their free will once exercised without the weakness and mitigating circumstances of the body, their action is irrevocable, not redeemable, not repentable.

All of this has been depicted by many artists (the most famous being Michelangelo) and those depictions have become iconic in Christian doctrine and have never been condemned as heretical by any religious Christian authority; they have become part of the Christian ethos (see below for sample illustrations). In fact the opposite is true to declare with the Puritans that we were created as angels and shall return to be angels after we have disposed of the body, that the body is a mere means to an end and somehow inferior to the soul and that everything associated with the body is evil (such as sex considered a necessary evil…), and everything associated with the soul is good, is to be suspected of heresy. And that despite Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” 

Descartes was a Catholic, but it was the Jew Spinoza who has it more on target philosophically when he writes that body and soul are one and the same thing, they represent a union of the spiritual and the material, and that without the body we are no longer human we are either angels of demons (fallen angels). For a Christian that would at a minimum mean that Michelangelo and all the other Christian iconographers were right in conceiving that to be human and remain human one needs a body, even if that body, after the resurrection whose prototype is Christ’s, will not be the material body with purely material physical sensations as we now know it; it will be a perfected body; which does not mean that the body we have now is to be degraded and shunned. In effect to declare oneself a pure spirit ahead of time and shun and vilify the body is to place oneself outside of the human conditions and thereby to start a process of dehumanization. Then it becomes plausible to burn the witches’ bodies to save their soul. Food for thought!


William Blake’s Vision of the Last Judgment (1808)


Last Judgment: Russia (18th century)


Memling’s Day of Judgment (1471)


The Last Judgment by Lochner (15th Century)


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